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Board Taps Engineer for Chancellor

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The changes keep coming. Just two weeks after free tuition was approved for SUNY and CUNY schools, the state-wide university system appointed its new chancellor.

Kristina Johnson, a former undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Energy, was appointed as the 13th chancellor for the nation’s largest public higher education institution. She will succeed Nancy Zimpher who has served as chancellor since 2009.

Following her appointment, Johnson said she was excited and grateful to be in Albany, and “have the opportunity serve a system in a state whose governor has put higher education front and center of his agenda.”

In addition to serving as undersecretary, the Colorado native who was born in St. Louis has a background not just in the physical sciences, but education as well.

Johnson is the founder and CEO of a hydroelectric company and has served as provost and vice president for academic affairs at John Hopkins University. Also, she was the dean of Duke University’s School of Engineering and a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Due to this wide range of previous positions, Johnson is aware of the need for an interdisciplinary approach to any topic, especially when it comes to higher education.

“You can’t build a company by just having one discipline,” she said, emphasizing the need for not just research, but teaching, education and outreach. “I do think technical is one path but it’s not the only path to the future of jobs.”

This philosophy is one of the reasons she stood out amongst other applicants for the position.

According to SUNY Trustee Chairman Carl McCall, she is a leader and entrepreneur in both private and public sectors.

Another distinguishing characteristic of Johnson is her commitment to diversity, equality and inclusion as noted by both Zimpher and Trustee Marc Cohen.

“[She’s] the right leader to keep SUNY at the top of its game,” Zimpher said.

Besides continuing to promote diversity and inclusion, one major challenge Johnson could face is enrollment.

SUNY-wide, enrollment has declined roughly 15 percent in the past year from 442,940 in 2015 to 436,138 in 2016. However, there is speculation that the Excelsior Scholarship plan, which will provide free tuition for SUNY and CUNY students whose families make under $125,000 a year by 2019, will garner a newfound interest in attending SUNY and increase enrollment numbers.

Regarding the scholarship program, Johnson said, “I think it’s very exciting one of the things that really attracted me to the position, the ability to work towards making higher education more affordable.”

She noted that an estimated 80,000 students are eligible for the scholarship, with half currently pursuing aid under TAP.

“There could be another 40,000 students and I’m excited about those students having an opportunity to get a higher education,” she said.

The former under secretary takes office Sept. 5 and there is speculation that Zimpher will find herself on the University at Albany campus.

According to Michael Parker, the associate director of communications, in the original appointment letter from when Zimpher assumed the role of chancellor, she also accepted a position with the School of Education.

“The information that I’m getting is from her original appointment letter … I cannot confirm what her plans are,” he said.

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